Historic day – TUC passes support for a 30-minute workday campaign action in solidarity with climate strikes

Guest post by Sean Vernell, University and College Union National Executive Committee

The TUC passed, unanimously, the composite motion calling for a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school student strike on the 20th September. It is the first time that the TUC has called on its 6.5 million members to demonstrate support for school students taking action. Indeed, it is the first time in many years the TUC has called on its members to demonstrate its collective power in solidarity with anyone. 

The trade union movement has a great debt to pay to the school students for transforming the debate over climate change and making it one of the main priorities amongst working people.

TUC votes to support the school student Climate Strike. Now turn words into action.

TUC conference has today unanimously passed a motion to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate Unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

We congratulate the delegates at TUC who have voted to recognise the significance of the Global School Students strikes, initiated by Greta Thunberg and the need for adults and especially the Trade Union movement to stand alongside young people, to ensure they do not stand alone in fighting for the urgent action needed to tackle climate change and ecological crisis and to deliver Climate Justice.

We ask all Trade Unions to now turn words into action and get organised to build on the fantastic examples of Trade Union solidarity action already in place for 20th September. 

The 20th September is already set to be the biggest turnout of working people many organised through their Trade Unions in the UK uniting in solidarity with young people. But it can be even bigger and we still have two weeks to deliver solidarity action to put hundreds of thousands of Trade Unionist onto the streets.

We would like to salute the young people who have led the action and also the UCU NEC members who put forward the motion to TUC conference calling for a 30 minute stoppage. They have been bold enough to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for Trade Unionists to not only respond to the call for Trade Unions to join them but to be bold in their actions and demands. The support for the UCU statement with over 2000 Trade Unionists and over 100 organisations backing the call for solidarity and a 30 minute workplace stoppage on 20th has also shown us the appetitive that there is for climate action within the Trade Union movement.

We ask all Trade Unionists to do everything they can to match the boldness required of us by the urgency of the Climate Crisis. We have just under two weeks now to build maximum solidarity on the 20th. 

This is just the beginning and we will need to continue the work of building solidarity, fighting to ensure our unions have the most progressive policies which match what the science tells us that we need to do and to continue to demand the Climate Jobs and a Green New Deal which can deliver the Just Transformation that we need.

Action grows for school student strike: Why the TUC must support UCU's motion calling for a 30-minute stoppage

Guest post by Sean Vernell, University and College Union National Executive Committee

UCU, at this year's TUC congress, has tabled a motion calling for the trade union movement to support a 30-minute workday stoppage to coincide with the global school student strike on the 20th September.

Almost 2000 people and 90 union branches and climate campaign organisations have signed a petition in support of the motion (you can add your name here). The catastrophe that is unfolding in the Amazon has sparked outrage across the globe. The G7s response of agreeing a £18 million donation to resolve the problem is wholly inadequate and confirms the urgent need for the trade union movement to step up the campaign for climate justice.

Unfortunately, rather than seeing what is taking place in the Amazon as a signal to renew efforts to rise to the challenge of climate change, there now is an attempt to water down UCU's motion call for a 30-minute stoppage. An amendment tabled by the train drivers' union ASLEF attempts to replace the word 'stoppage' to 'working campaign action'.

Some unions seem to prefer the ASLEF wording and say they will be supporting the amendment. UCU believes that this would be a mistake.

UCU accepts that a motion that is supported by the TUC calling for 'a 30-minute working campaign action to coincide with the global school strike on the 20th September' (which is what the ASLEF amendment says in full) would be a step forward for the movement against climate change. However, it is clearly not the bold and audacious call that is needed at this crucial juncture we have arrived at.

We are unclear what 'working campaign action' actually means. If it is a survey or quiz about climate change then clearly this will be nowhere near what is needed.

Those supporting the ASLEF motion do so because they are concerned about the legality of the UCU's motion calling for a workday 'stoppage' without a ballot. They also argue that, if passed, it could put union members at risk of victimisation by their employers.

On the first concern raised, the way the unions laws are designed makes it near in possible for workers in Britain to obtain a legal ballot over climate change and even if a union could find a way (ie impact on health and safety) they would need to adhere to the new 50% thresholds.

The movement has to face up to the issue of taking action 'illegally'. Trade union history is filled with examples of workers breaking laws to ensure that society can progress. We as a trade union movement exist because six rural farm workers took 'illegal' collective action less than 200 years ago. They did so because for them it was a matter of life and death. To ensure that their families did not starve they had to take 'illegal' action. When a law is unjust it's the duty of the trade union movement to challenge that law.

On the second concern raised about putting at risk union members it is clear many employers are very supportive of their workforce taking action over climate change.  For example, Patagonia, the outdoor gear company is actively encouraging its workers to take action on the 20th. It also has global policy of providing bail for workers arrested during climate protests! Germany's GLS ethical bank says it will close on the 20th September to allow staff to attend marches on the day. Tower Hamlets Council is supporting the students protest on the 20th and are keen to create opportunities for their staff to show their solidarity and are looking to organise a rally on the day with unions. There are many employers that are sympathetic to the school student climate protests and of their workers showing their support for them.

The trade union movement mustn't lag behind what some of the more advanced employers are saying and doing – it must put itself at the forefront of this global uprising both with alternatives to fossil fuels and action.